Women in STEM: A breakdown

Let’s breakdown what STEM means, what it means to be a woman in STEM, and certain misconceptions and insecurities we might find ourselves with as these women.

STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” and this broad term is used to group these academic disciplines into an incredible approach that encourages students to learn and apply “real-world” solutions. Now, a woman in STEM can be defined in many different ways. One definition that I like is from the article “What Does It Mean To Be A Woman In Stem?” by Brittany Binowski.

“Women in STEM are women who choose to fight past the opinions of others and do exactly what they feel is right for them.” Regina, 16, said. “They have recognized the roles they can play in these fields and how their intelligence, capability and drive qualifies them to play these roles.”

She’s right. We all do care about what feels right for you. We care about our future and motivations, and as it is something that applies to all of us, it also makes a big difference when women are committed to thriving in careers where the gender gap is particularly high. According to the AAUW (American Association of University Women), “women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college.” This is mostly with high lucrative demanded careers such as engineering and Computer science, which remains heavily dominated by men because “only 21% of engineering majors and 19% of computer science majors are women.”

Diving into these careers is something that may have crossed our minds, but surely some factors may “scare” us away from the actual meaning of getting into these academic fields. We may encounter gender stereotypes (TBH, we definitely will), male-dominated cultures, lack of confidence, fewer role models, math anxiety, and even a little bit of “impostor syndrome.” I know. It’s a little bit too much!  

Majoring in STEM fields doesn’t mean you need to be a “know-it-all,” and I feel that’s the first misconception made by people when they ask about your major and interests. Certainly, these academic fields are often viewed as “masculine;” it tends to be an exclusionary and, male-dominated space that in some cases may not be inclusive of women and minorities. Over the years, with how this subject has evolved and the misconceptions have lessened, the concept of pursuing a career in science seems to be more accessible than before.

How do you gain self- confidence and combat impostor syndrome?

Confidence is a factor in our life that needs to be taken into consideration. It's the main motivation that drives us to embrace challenges and control the level of difficulties in any aspect of our lives, and when encountering academic fields with such high expectations and a certain drive for success, it is tricky to be consistent with what you believe about yourself. Here’s where impostor syndrome comes into place, let’s first define what it means exactly:

“It describes the difficulty internalizing one's accomplishments or abilities, and instead attributing their success to other factors.” Valerie Young, Ph.D., said in the article “Feeling like a Fraud: Imposter Syndrome in STEM” by Molly Campbell. “Factors such as luck, timing, "someone helped me", "I had connections" are common examples.”

Personally, I have felt this way countless times. It’s not hard to accept any of my accomplishments. But when it comes to receiving recognition or compliments on my “intelligence” or “capacity,” it doesn’t feel right. It takes a lot to achieve a certain level of excellence and acceptance, and for me, it takes too much preparation and overwork for the concepts I might not understand to pay close attention and expand the knowledge on the subject.

We all have different levels of understanding and everyone takes their own time, and I think that’s the key element to keep in mind when being exposed to challenging classes in STEM or any career in general. It’s all about how you perceive yourself among others and how committed you are to learn from your successes and mistakes.

When talking about STEM and how it is perceived when a woman’s place comes into question, it is not easy to set specific standards. As the topic is so broad and covers different research, statistics, and opinions of women’s position in the STEM community, it seems tricky to set a particular opinion on something that has a broad spectrum of possibilities. Many factors come into place when trying to convey a general point, and the way I view it is this: women in STEM is motivation. It involves our dreams, goals, abilities, and our determination to persevere in a difficult social and academic environment based on our definition of success and future.

 

Works Cited

“The STEM Gap: Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – AAUW : Empowering Women Since 1881.” AAUW, 31 Mar. 2020, www.aauw.org/resources/research/the-stem-gap/.

Campbell, Molly. “Feeling Like a Fraud: Impostor Syndrome in STEM.” Technology Networks, 7 Oct. 2019, www.technologynetworks.com/tn/articles/feeling-like-a-fraud-impostor-syn....

Binowski, Brittany. “What Does It Mean To Be A Woman In STEM?” HuffPost, HuffPost, 2 Oct. 2013, www.huffpost.com/entry/what-does-it-mean-for-women-in-stem_b_2456585.